“That was a really great meeting!”, I told Carolyn as we walked toward the lunch room. “I already see the benefits of your mentor relationship with Jack. In fact, I’m kinda jealous.”
“Yeah. Preparation really pays off. Now that I know how, it is so easy.”, Carolyn was smiling.
“So it is really easy?”, I asked.
“Well – initially it was kind of confusing. I didn’t understand that there were different kinds of meetings. I didn’t understand that the objectives determine the kind of meeting and the agenda.”, she shared as we got into line to pay at the cashier.
“Different kinds of meetings, I don’t quite get what you mean. Can you explain?”, I said.
“Well, every meeting has a purpose. Something that you want to accomplish. That has to drive how you organize your preparation. For example – This meeting’s objective was to make decisions, but even with that, there are different strategies. Some are collaborative – that the team works together to arrive at the decision. Other times, we already have a recommendation that we are trying to get “approved”. Both meetings have a decision as the “objective” but very different preparation plan.”, Carolyn seemed to really get this.
“Some times the decisions we need are financial, other times they are plan formation, still other times, they are selecting from options. Each has different information required, but the most important thing to prepare for a decision making meeting is to know up front who actually has the decision rights. To be honest, it is the most obvious thing, but until Jack had asked me about it when I was preparing for this meeting, I had never thought much about it. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had no idea who was allowed to make the decisions.” Carolyn said.
“So for this meeting, how did you figure that out?”, I asked.
“It turns out that the executive sponsor of the program had delegated the decisions that we needed to three different people within the program, but had not broadly shared that information. After sniffing around, I ended up having to confirm with her that I had the right people. It was actually trickier than I thought, but that allowed me to meet with each of them before the meeting to ensure that they had everything they needed to make and formalize the decision. The meeting became more of a formality after that, because I already knew what kind of decision framework each of them wanted to use to inform their decisions.”
“Decision framework? What is that?”, I was now totally curious.
“Jack explained that every decision maker has to defend their decisions. Most of them use some form of pre-established logic or criteria that determines how they will react to the information that they use to make their decisions. Most of them will review the framework with their boss or the program sponsor, even before all the information is available to make sure they have thought through things sufficiently”.
“I supposed that I never really thought about how people make decisions. This is pretty interesting. I don’t make very many decisions, but I would love my boss to trust me more.” I was thinking about my own situation.
“You probably make lots of decisions, and you don’t even realize it. Just not the big, visible, potentially career limiting ones. I learned from Jack that when executives delegate decisions, they want to hold the delegates accountable for results, that part is obvious. Since the results can lag behind the decisions by months or even years, they need some kind of lead measure that they can assess to make sure that decisions are not made arbitrarily or for the wrong reasons. The decision framework is that lead measure”, Carolyn was on a roll. “So once I understood how the decision makers worked, I could just work backward from there to ensure I didn’t schedule the meeting until that all the information was gathered, and that they had seen at least a preview.” she sounded like an expert.
“So what happens when all the information isn’t available, or can’t be gathered before a decision must be made? Does your method allow for that?”, I inquired, curious to see if there was more that I was missing.
“Jack had that covered, too. He said that sometimes it is not possible to have all the information available when decisions are required. Then decision makers have to be transparent about this – especially with sponsors and stakeholders. These decisions have more risks. Often contingency plans need to be made to adjust decisions when information is available, but it is still between the decision makers and the sponsor to figure that out.”, Carolyn seemed very sure of her answers.
“What about consensus, it always feels to me like we make decisions by committee. That doesn’t really align with what you are telling me. I’ve been told over and over that we can’t decide until there is agreement. Am I missing something important?”, I asked, still trying to figure out if she had it covered or not.
“Consensus is one part of a decision framework that some decision makers require, but it is really for their own benefit, when they feel they are missing some expertise or experience required to make the decision. They can decide that they want agreement on their chosen course of action from others as part of their framework. Alternatively, they can have those same experts help them build a more robust framework that they can execute independently – it is totally their choice. Jack also said that sometimes the executive who delegates the decision will make suggestions knowing the limitations in the expertise of the decision maker.”, Carolyn shared with confidence.
“It seems like you really have this figured out.”, I provided, “I am really happy for you!”
“Truth is, I feel more confident than I have ever felt, at least about meetings. Last week, the sponsor commented about how well run meetings on the program were. I couldn’t help smiling. Jack was right – doing all the prep work really pays off.”
As Carolyn left the lunch table, I couldn’t help feeling like I had learned from her at least some of what she had obviously learned from Jack. I was also curious about the other kinds of meetings and how to prepare for them.